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AHI Noon Forum Highlights Current Crisis Facing Jerusalem’s Greek Orthodox Patriarchate
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE CONTACT: GEORGIA ECONOMOU
January 27, 2006—No. 3 (202) 785-8430

AHI Noon Forum Highlights Current Crisis Facing Jerusalem’s Greek Orthodox Patriarchate

WASHINGTON, DC—On January 18, 2006, the American Hellenic Institute (AHI) hosted a noon forum titled “The Patriarchate of Jerusalem: Modern Problems in an Ancient Land.” The guest speaker for the event was Ambassador Patrick N. Theros, Representative of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem in the United States.

Ambassador Theros provided an overview of the Greek Orthodox Church’s long history in the region as a backdrop to the current crisis that the Jerusalem Patriarchate is facing. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which is the responsibility of the Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem, is the oldest continually operating church in the world. It is also the center of worship for all Christians worldwide as it sits on the location of both Golgotha and the Tomb of Christ.

Throughout the centuries, the Patriarchate’s holdings have grown significantly. They now include approximately two-thirds of all land within Jerusalem’s city walls. These properties have become an object greed for many parties. These same lands have become the subject of major controversy that remains unresolved today.

Elected patriarch on August 13, 2001, Patriarch Irineos soon afterwards entered into a fraudulent transaction in 2004. Under his authorization, four valuable properties in the Old City of Jerusalem were leased for 198 years each to four offshore British Virgin Islands companies of questionable ownership. Checks in full were written out to “cash” for each of the four leases, however the Patriarchate never received any of these funds.

As a result of these questionable transactions, the Holy Synod of Jerusalem deposed Irineos, and Archbishop Theophilos Giannopoulos of Tabor was elected Patriarch Theophilos III. However, the Israeli government continues to recognize Irineos as Patriarch instead of Theophilos, and has frozen the Patriarchate’s bank accounts.

According to Ambassador Theros, the immediate effect of this “has been near catastrophic for the Patriarchate.…It got to a point where the Patriarchate’s electricity was shut down.” The Church cannot pay the staff of its 40 schools, nor maintain the 400 churches within its jurisdiction. The Greek Government has stepped in temporarily to provide financial support in these areas.

Further complicating this crisis, creditors are taking court action to seize Church lands to help reimburse unpaid debts. Finally, without recognition by the Israeli Government, Patriarch Theophilos III cannot conduct his full range of duties and activities, thus violating the Church’s religious freedom.

Paths to Resolve the Crisis:

According to Ambassador Theros, it is crucial that two things happen in the very near future in order to resolve the crisis and maintain the Greek Orthodox Church’s historic primacy in the Holy Land. First, the Israeli Government must issue Patriarch Theophilos’s mandate to preside over his area of jurisdiction. Second, the Israeli Government must release the Patriarchate’s currently frozen bank accounts.

The Patriarchate of Jerusalem is currently seeking legal action to obtain recognition of Patriarch Theophilos from the Israeli Government, and to release the bank accounts.

In addition to being a legal issue, “Refusal to recognize the Patriarchate is a violation of religious freedom,” pointed out the ambassador. Furthermore, certain extremist Jewish groups in the U.S. are accusing the Patriarchate of anti-Semitism, citing an alleged refusal to lease land to Jews. In fact, the Patriarchate frequently leases land to Israelis where it is legally possible to do so.

To counter this, the ambassador emphasized that perhaps the most important thing that the Greek American community can do to combat these accusations is “to talk to our Jewish friends and point out that the anti-Semitism argument one they should avoid using.” Instead, the issue—which is currently being dealt with by Israeli courts—is about a fraudulent land transaction. We should tell our Jewish friends that we have sought justice in Israeli courts. We trust the Israeli courts and deeply resent this attempt by some groups to accuse the Greek Orthodox Church of anti-Semitism.”

“In my recent visit to Jerusalem for Patriarch Theophilos’ enthronement in November, His Eminence and I had the opportunity to discuss the plight that he currently faces with the Israeli government,” pointed out AHI Executive Director Nick Larigakis. “AHI was pleased to host Ambassador Theros today to raise the level of awareness about this very important issue, and we look forward to exploring future opportunities to contribute to the issue’s resolution.”

The op-ed by Ambassador Theros, titled “Jerusalem: The Medieval World Meets the 21st Century” (Special to The National Herald) provides additional history and details surrounding this current crisis. Please stay tuned to AHI for future courses of action to help protect the Jerusalem Patriarchate’s position in the Holy Land.

In September 1999 the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem, Diodoros I, appointed Ambassador Patrick Nickolas Theros as his representative in the United States, in which capacity he continues to serve today. Ambassador Theros joined the Foreign Service in 1963 and, prior to being appointed Ambassador to the State of Qatar in 1995, served in a variety of positions within the State Department’s ranks. Upon retiring from the Foreign Service in December 1998, Ambassador Theros assumed the position of Director of International Projects at Capital Investment Management Corporation, a McLean, Virginia investment firm. In March 2000, Ambassador Theros took on his current role as the President and Executive Director of the U.S.-Qatar Business Council.

In 1992 Ambassador Theros was awarded the President’s Meritorious Service Award for career officials and the Secretary of Defense Medal for Meritorious Civilian Service. He also earned four Superior Honor Awards over the course of his career. In 1990, he was accorded the personal rank of Minister Counselor.

Ambassador Patrick Theros.

 

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For additional information, please contact Georgia Economou at (202) 785-8430 or [email protected]. For general information regarding the activities of AHI, please view our Web site at http://www.ahiworld.org.